28 Feb


Ironically, in a conversation about yoga beyond the poses, it’s important to speak about the poses. How do they fit with whatever else that is beyond the poses?  Why do them?  Do they matter?  How do we get value from doing them?

As one of many systems that support personal growth and fulfillment, yoga is distinct from the others in that mind, BODY and spirit are engaged.   But this embodied approach makes it a double edged sword.  Although the poses are typically what initially draw people to yoga, if they stay with the poses-only stance, they can quickly find themselves focused on competition, harsh judgments and even hurtful self-criticism.  This is not yoga and in fact, this drives people away from yoga.   It is understandable that so many people get drawn towards this direction.  In the West, we’re taught that we need to work hard to be better than others and if we do, our reward will be found; around the next corner or even somewhere beyond the rainbow. No pain, no gain is the Western mantra.  We aren’t taught to find the value of now or how to deal with things like pride and fear.  Yoga does that.  The word yoga means becoming one.   So long as we stand apart in judgment, we sabotage our potential for connection and growth.

Getting back to the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defined the Eight Limb Path of Yoga.  Poses (asana) are the third limb.  The yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances) are the first two limbs and they are rarely mentioned in most yoga classes. The yamas are the renunciations to be embraced and the niyamas are the practices to be nurtured.  These concepts along with the physical aspects of yoga practice are the foundation for all that yoga offers.

As we do a pose, we experience a wide range of responses physically and emotionally.  Yogis are taught to observe everything that arises; difficulty, discomfort, fear, boredom, distraction.  The lessons from doing one pose are fodder for the next lessons when a new pose is learned.   Sometimes the best response will be to honor a need to rest and sometimes it is to play with the experience by holding the pose longer or in a slightly different way. Either way, we are honing our ability to know, to see and to feel our full experience with awareness and compassion. We can observe ourselves more clearly and as needed, eventually let things go.

Sudhir Johnathan Foust explains it well.  “Most of the time I’m looking outside myself to have my world view corroborated.  The beauty of yoga is that when we become energetically alive, and our mind becomes drawn into direct experience of the moment, we turn inside; it’s a doorway, a new infinite world of possibilities…. The doorway to insight is the present moment.  So, the question is, how do I enter the present moment? For that, the body is an incredible tool.”

So what’s a yogi to do with all this talk saying that it’s not about the poses followed by a suggestion to get on your mat every day and do poses!!!

What can be done to move from simply doing poses as yet another form of exercise to all the yogic good stuff?

~~ Get on your mat and do yoga-like movements rather than yoga poses. That means lengthen, twist, bend, turn, balance, invert and stretch different parts of your body.  You might start with your head and work your way down or do the reverse and start with your feet.  Bring awareness to each joint as you move it all the ways that it is designed to move. Don’t even think of doing something that feels difficult!  For that matter, don’t do any pose that has a name.  Don’t do any sequences that you learned.  Make up your own sequence and your own poses.  Hold them long enough so you can notice how you feel physically in that pose and how you feel emotionally.  Just note those observations and move to the next pose.

~~ As your body expands or stretches, inhale.  As your body contracts, twists or folds, exhale.  Match every movement with a breath.  When holding a pose, count the number of breaths taken.

~~ Stay on your mat only as long as feels right to you and be sure to leave at least 5 minutes for your final relaxation (shavasana).  Use this time to absorb the entirety of your experience.  Commit to your daily yoga practice.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and suggestions.  Are they helpful?  What do you do that helps?


27 Feb


Everyone’s experience is different as we work through the assortment of options for personal growth and fulfillment.  Yoga is but one option and it can provide different types of value to the practitioner.  No matter where we are and which option we’re moving towards, consistency challenges often derail many.  The Yoga Sutras, as other similar guides, can be filled with useful gems but can also overwhelm.

A good grounding exercise is to remember the importance of the relationship between two underlying concepts explained by Patanjali, the Yoga Sutras author.  Practice (abhyasa) and nonattachment or renunciation (vairagya) create the framework for a sustainable practice.

Making space for new often involves removing something old.  Vairagya is the practice of letting go.  It is the elimination of unhelpful things.  Those can include negative self-talk, self-defeating behaviors, or poor choices.  We seem to be hard wired for a propensity to hold on to things, even when they don’t serve us well.  The physical part of yoga (asana) helps us learn to be present with ourselves by learning body awareness, breath awareness and feelings awareness.  Once we progress in our ability to experience nonjudgmental self-awareness, we are then poised and open to respond differently.

One way to support the release of unhelpful things is to commit to abhyasa, your practice.  That means getting onto the mat every day and it also involves nurturing an attitude of dedication to your practice.  Abhyasa is a personalized realization of your choices with ferocious and unswerving faithfulness to your best self.

Renunciation (vairagya) by itself has no staying power.  Intentions and thoughts commonly are only temporarily turned into actions.  Then, something else catches our attention and off we go!  Practice (abhyasa) is walking the talk.   A consistent practice starting with simply doing the poses (asana) and breath work (pranayama) is perfect because it can provide the energy and the sense of purpose needed to stay steady during the harder moments.  Even a daily ten minutes on the mat can provide that.

Yoga doesn’t magically remove old behaviors or beliefs.  Instead it is the steadying space for permitting whatever changes are needed.   It is a commitment to self and to growth.

Once yoga is part of our self-image, we have a safe and reliable platform for letting go while also being nourished by the self-care time on the mat.

Together practice and renunciation nurture progress along a more consistent path.


1 Mar

Self-discipline can be self-torture or it can save a life. It can scare you to death or it can motivate the creation of plan that makes your dreams come true. Discipline typically means requiring yourself to do a laundry list of things that you normally would avoid! You know the stream of self-talk that runs through your brain? A lot of it reverberates from an uncompleted to-do list. Ever beat yourself up because you didn’t leap that mountain fast enough or you didn’t memorize the complete dictionary before you left work?

Sound crazy? If self-discipline is about doing lots of things, things often do get crazy fast.

How about if the plan included doing what is possible with consistency? How about if you do what you can and do it fully? Nothing encourages good decisions like a positive experience. Success generates more success. Failure generates a fear of even trying. How about focusing on the consistency of your efforts rather than lurching forward and then falling backwards? How about focusing on your long term intention rather than setting yourself up to fail?

Go for a long, long string of small successes!


19 Feb


The LITTLE things that we can do every day ADD UP to big success on our health and strength goals.


I listed some of the little things that I do below. I’d LOVE to hear about the little things you do!




  1. Often I wear my workout clothes under my regular clothes because it makes it easier for me to work out if I’m already ready!
  2. I take two stairs at a time when I go upstairs.
  3. I sit on the floor a lot. Every time I get up to get something I stand without using my arms to push up. Even if you have to kneel and push with your hands to get up, you get stronger every time you do it!
  4. This month I was part of a burpee challenge. The goal is to do 1000 before the end of the month. I’ve learned that I can get a lot done if I do them in small sets frequently throughout the day. The total done at the end of the day is definitely respectable.
  5. Cut high calorie things like cheese into smaller pieces and keep them in a baggie for when you want a snack. Tell yourself that you can have a certain number and it feels like you can eat more because they are cut into those smaller pieces.
  6. After making your soup, put it in the refrigerator so the fat will congeal on top. Scoop off and throw away the fat before reheating it.
  7. Take the stairs instead of elevators whenever you can.
  8. Park a little farther away from the building so you get a little more walk time.
  9. Use every trip to the bathroom as a reminder or cue to yourself to do 10 or so of some exercise before you leave the bathroom.
  10. Stand in a squat while brushing your teeth.


19 Feb

When you choose to participate in a challenge, almost always you exercise more than you would have otherwise. That’s a good thing! Challenges provide structure and accountability which is helpful for almost everyone. But, I’ve noticed that since we’re all at different levels of fitness, not everyone can do or would benefit from many challenges suggested.

Enter the DIY March Challenge… Yup, let’s do a Do It Yourself Challenge!

Let’s say you want stronger abs. Let’s say that today you can do 5 sit-ups or 50 sit-ups. That’s your starting point. Next you need to decide how many sit-ups you want to be able to do by the end of the month. Yes, that’ll be a tricky number to come up with. Hopefully by the end of the month you’ll not only have stronger abs but you’ll have a little more self-awareness. If you can do 5 sit-ups today, how about you add one more every other day? That means that by the end of March you’ll be able to do 20 sit-ups at a time! If you are the 50 sit-ups person, how about you add 5 more per day? By the end of March you’ll be doing 155 or so. Too much? Too little? That’s OK; by the end of the month you’ll still have stronger abs if you do the challenge every day AND you’ll know better how to set yourself up for the DIY April Challenge!

You could make your challenge about number of times you swim, the number of miles you walk or run, or the number of pounds you can lift. You create the challenge that challenges you!

Are you in?

If yes, if you’d like, describe your challenge in the comments here. And, if you’re on social media, post your progress daily using #DIYMARCHCHALLENGE

I’ll be seeing you on twitter!


1 Feb

Want a flat belly? No problem! Just rub our magic lotion on your belly 20 times a day for a week and presto; you’ll have the belly of your dreams!

Ok, ok… Just kidding…

But sometimes it feels like flat bellies are the realm of scam artists and super athletes.

While it remains true that you can’t have a flat stomach until you get rid of belly fat, there’s another little tidbit that can help. Have you ever seen a thin person that still had a protruding belly? Keep reading and you’ll understand why.

You know those washboard abs? Well, very fit people with washboard abs are displaying a strong rectus abdominus muscle which goes up and down the abdomen. Of course, this is good.

But there is another, often ignored, ab muscle which has even more influence on that flat belly look you want. It is the deepest ab muscle and it is called the transverse abdominus. It’s literally like a girdle because it goes around the abdomen extending between the ribs and the hips. Its fibers run horizontally just like a back support belt. And what does a girdle do? It holds in the gut! If something strong is holding in your gut, guess what? You have a flat belly!

This muscle is located so deep that you can’t even touch it from the outside. So what exercises can you do to strengthen it? Pilates focuses on strengthening your core and hits this muscle a lot. The exercises that hit the lower abs include leg raises and knee raises and they also strengthen the transverse abdominis.

But, here’s the less known exercise that I want to share with you. You can do this on all fours, sitting, kneeling, standing or just about any time! That’s what is so cool about this.

Here’s what you do. Exhale all the air from your body, and suck your abdomen up and in as far as you can. Hold it for 10 seconds or more. Then do it again!

You can do this while in line at the grocery store or when you’re bored in class or while waiting for a friend. The stronger the transverse abdominis is, the flatter the belly!

Go for it!


31 Jan

What’s your mantra?

A lot of people might say, “Mantras are just for those people who meditate and do all that stuff.” Well, no. Your mantra is what you repeat to yourself over and over. It doesn’t need to be said out loud. It doesn’t need to be planned. It doesn’t even need to be true.

Maybe you say things like: “I’m always going to be fat” or “People don’t like me” or “I’m shy” or “I’m bad at running” or “I hate this or that”.

When I began my journey to reclaim my fitness in July 2011, I was telling myself over and over, “I can’t do this anymore.” Luckily I recognized this self-sabotaging behavior. I immediately picked a mantra. I decided to tell myself, “I am strong.”

That’s it. Three words. Every time I got on the treadmill, I had to repeat my mantra over and over. Every time I attempted to lift weights or hold a yoga pose, I had to rely on my mantra to combat the negative chatter that wanted to take over my brain.

It worked. Now, at age 65 I am very strong and I know I will get even stronger with each passing year.

I still need my mantra. For example, cardio has always been boring and challenging for me. So when I do it, my mind wants to get into whine mode. But, if I repeat, “I am strong” over and over, it is a lot easier to pick my knees up higher when I run.

So what is your mantra? Is that mantra helping you be your best self? Or, should you change it?

It’s ok if it isn’t true today. Tell yourself that you are going to pretend that it’s true until it actually is true!

Again, what is your mantra?

“Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”

– Fredrick B. Wilcox


7 Jan

Inspired by Ramonda Sosa‘s  90 day raw food feast, I made this tangy cauliflower with mushroom gravy dish. I loved it but the best compliment came from Rob, a reluctant cauliflower eater, who said, “It’s good!” I think he was a bit surprised. So, not only is this raw foods dish super healthy, it tastes great too!

Tangy Cauliflower

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and give it a whirrrrrl!

    3 C chopped cauliflower

    ½ C soaked raw cashews (I didn’t soak mine too long and it worked just fine.)

    ¼ C thyme and / or sage leaves (Do you own thing here. What herbs are your favorites?)

    1 avocado (Thanks avocado for making it creamy and giving us those healthy fats at the same time!)

    ¼ C lime juice (Did I mention tangy?)

    1 T white miso paste (Maybe this isn’t raw but we might have to be flexible here..)

    2 cloves garlic (yum!)

    2 T olive oil

Mushroom Gravy

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend away!

¾ C sliced mushrooms (We get low calories & high nutrients including our much needed – due to lack of SUN now – vitamin D.)

1/3 C olive oil

1/3 C water

1 T soy sauce (Not all is raw….)

1.5 T apple cider vinegar

1 clove garlic (You’d better like garlic if you eat this stuff.)

I topped the whole thing with chives just for fun!



31 Dec

Unless you are paying attention, you might not already know that salads are not always your friend if you are trying to eat healthy and / or lose weight. If you want to hear this same message from multiple sources, click on the links below. If you are already convinced and you want to take a giant step towards getting the most from your salad eating, keep reading!

One of the best things you can do to make sure your salad eating isn’t sabotaging you is to make your own salad dressing. If you use the mix-n-match recipes below in advance, you’ll always have healthy dressing on hand and you’ll always be ready! I like to make one jar of the vinaigrette dressing and one of the creamy dressing at the same time. If the healthy stuff is within reach, it’s much easier to eat right!

Vinaigrette Mix-N-Match Dressing

Mix the following ingredients in a blender. Chill. Enjoy!

¼ cup oil (I prefer olive oil, but pick your favorite)

¼ cup vinegar (I prefer apple cider vinegar, but pick your… Are you getting the gist of the mix-n-match approach?)

¼ cup berries (I like strawberries, but…)

Juice of one lemon (I prefer limes, but you can really go wild and try grapefruit juice if that floats your boat!)

1 TBS of honey (You can use any healthy sweetener of your preference!)

1 – 2 cloves of garlic (Unless you are allergic to garlic or just really hate it, this is an ingredient that doesn’t seem optional to me!)

Herbs of your choice (I really like thyme with this recipe, but do your thing!)

Creamy Mix-N-Match Dressing

Again, mix the following ingredients in a blender. Chill. Enjoy!

¼ cup soaked raw cashews (I don’t recommend using any other type of nut. Cashews give you the creaminess you want!)

1/8 cup sesame seeds (Feel free to use other things, like pine nuts, here!)

3 TBS lemon juice (Again, I prefer lime juice.)

2 cloves of garlic (You already know how I feel about the garlic!)

1 tsp miso

½ tsp kelp

1 tsp sweetener

¼ cup water


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28 Dec

Last year we started a fitness support group at our church. Many people welcomed the idea and talked about their desire to become more fit. Still, many people found it difficult to maintain the motivation to participate regularly. That’s not a new challenge for a fitness group and we wanted to see if we could find solutions that would be helpful. Since being connected to our church community, I thought that it might helpful if people could see the connection between fitness and their spiritual goals.  But, honestly, the words to explain that connection didn’t come to me right away.

Since then my broader study of yoga has helped. Previously I knew that yoga was a specific spiritual practice in itself. Now, it’s a little clearer to me that any fitness program is or can become a spiritual practice.

The key to this understanding came from Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s book Freedom From Fear where he explains:

  • “Life is inherently sacred.
  • There is a clear and definite order to the world you live in.
  • By honoring your place in it – your individual dharma (purpose) – you honor and, in the process, support universal dharma (life force of nature).
  • Since you affect the larger dharma through your actions, thoughts and words, nothing is more important than securing and establishing your highest state of well-being so that you can be more completely in tune with this intelligence.”

I don’t think it’s easy to make the leap from these words to fitness as spirituality so let’s try to apply these thoughts one at a time.

The birth of a child, a beautiful piece of art or music, a breathtaking garden or a mountaintop view, all these things represent easily identified sacred symbols of life. But, what about the triumphant healing of a physically or emotionally disabled person who was never expected to walk, talk, or contribute? What about the inspirational people who come out of dark places in life and transform their lives so all their energies now go towards helping the disadvantaged or being amazingly dedicated parents and community members? It is so easy to get caught up in our daily experience of life that we forget that WE ARE that amazing thing called sacred life. Just as awe inspiring as an understanding of the details of astronomy or physics or botany is, so are we amazing and awe inspiring sacred life. From the simple healing of a scratch to the intricacies of how our brain functions, our physical being is astonishing and also breathtaking. To honor our bodies is to manifest an understanding of the sacredness of life itself.

And as we explore this notion of the sacredness of our physical being, the cause and effect of how we care for ourselves becomes clearer. There is an abundance of information about the value of exercise and healthy eating. It cures disease. It lengthens lifetimes. It increases capacity to live fully. It makes people happier. We are part of this clear and definite order in the world. We are not only part of that order but we influence it. We influence it by impacting our own experience with life but in other ways also.

Let’s say that your individual purpose (dharma) was to write and that your writing could help some people meet a need they have. If these others’ needs are met, they are then more able to access their life force to meet their individual purpose which all contriubtes to the universal dharma. But, if your health didn’t allow you to pursue that writing, the order in the world could be sadly interrupted.

It’s not just the writing that would be missing. There is more.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is, of course, a masterful piece of music. But knowing that it was composed by someone who couldn’t hear his own creation makes it even more significant. As we feel the music, we also experience the greatness of Beethoven’s spirit as he followed his individual purpose which was and still is connected to us all. Many have been moved by his music and by his spirit.

I think it’s hard to really realize the impact that we all have. Recently I met with a previously incarcerated man that I supported as part of the non-profit that I founded years ago. He has been out of prison for almost ten years and is doing fantastic. He has held down an excellent job in the optometry field for all those ten years. He is now head of the lab where he works and his lab is recognized as award winning in his field! He recently completed barber school and his new barbering business is taking off like crazy! He now owns his own home. My heart soars with joy for him. It also is overwhelmed with humility when he repeats over and over how important a role I personally played when I encouraged and supported his personal journey to this new life ten years ago.

But there is more that I never really understood completely until I met his two young sons in person. His boys are 8 and 13. And, they are very impressive. The 13 year old got accepted in an academy that specializes in science and supports children with higher educational goals and capacities. This boy is beginning to learn about photography. They both are drummers and athletes. They both are very respectful and a pleasure to be around. After meeting them I could see and feel how we all affect the larger dharma. I watched and listened as my friend spoke to his sons; sometimes using something in our conversation to throw in a brief math challenge for his youngest son, sometimes providing them with bits of fatherly wisdom and constantly reminding them how important they are to him. As he talked to me in their presence, I witnessed his awareness of how everything they experience influences his two boys. They both know that he loves them very, very much. If I am to belief that I did play a major role in helping his find his way as he says, I can also see how that is also reflected in these two exceptional young men. I can see and experience the way that all is connected, even a decade later. One thought, decision, and action influences the next which influences the next and then the next.

There is no getting away from the impact of how being true to our best selves (our individual dharma) contributes to the greater good in specific and in general ways. We are all connected and we all matter.

So, when we are inspired by world class athletes, we don’t just admire their abilities and their talents. We also feel inspired by the force of will that they used to develop those skills and abilities. As we cheer them on, we are also cheering on all other individual efforts to become everything that we can become.

The spirituality of fitness means making choices to maintain our physical health while maintaining our awareness on all the broader potential positive impacts for those choices. It is a commitment to stay on the path to becoming our best selves – in all ways.

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